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Haunted 'Old Mansion' for sale

By Jim Mason & Ed Simmons, Jr.

Famous for its ghosts, Bowling Green Farm, popularly known around town as “The Old Mansion,” is up for sale.

"The present owner of Old Mansion does not believe in ghosts," said Bowling Green Town Council Woman Susan Sili.

"However, I have pictures that I took with the previous owner of lights and shapes in the hallway there that are pretty incredible. ...They are in the shape of a swirling-looking, lighted funnel cloud is the only way I can describe them. There are two, the other one looks like it has an arm extended that has a fancy colonial-looking sleeve coming out of the cloud."

Old Mansion is also given its own chapter in the book Virginia Ghosts by Marguerite Dupont Lee.

But don’t look for any for-sale sign out front at 200 South Main Street, where a driveway lined with cedar trees leads to the front of the stately brick manor house, one of the oldest in Virginia.

The only way to discover that the estate is indeed for sale is to go online. Type in the search window Click on Charlottesville Va. Real Estate in Central Va. – Frank Hardy Inc. Then click on Historic Estates, scroll down to Bowling Green Farm and click on the photo.

The website features color photos of the front and interior rooms of the 18th century 1 ½-story pre-Georgian colonial built in 1741 on land patented by Major George Thomas Hoomes in 1667. Asking price: $2,950,000.

According to The Wall Street Journal, owner Steve Nicklin paid $750,000 for the estate in 2003.

Listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, the mansion was built with bricks brought from England. The quarter-mile driveway around the front lawn is believed to have been the site of the first horse racing track built in this country in colonial times.

Town tradition maintains that George Washington and his troops, marching to Yorktown and the defeat of the British, camped in front of the house in 1781. A few weeks later, Washington entertained Lafayette with a banquet served on the lawn, celebrating Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown.

After buying the 126-acre estate in September 2003, Nicklin had a sign erected heralding the stately colonial home as "Bowling Green Farm," but locals persist on calling it “The Old Mansion.”

“I call it what it was originally called, which is 'Bowling Green Farm',” Nicklin said by telephone in June.

Caroline County history buff Herb Collins, a retired Smithsonian museum curator, said, “Steve went back to the original name, and he has the journals to prove it.”

Collins said the estate originally consisted of 7,000 acres and extended westward all the way to Milford. A pamphlet on Bowling Green’s history, published in 2001, also notes the original acreage: “The 7000 acre Hoomes estate began with a 1665 land grant from King Charles II of England. Major Thomas Hoomes built the house about four years later. The Major must have been quite an adventurer, as the land which comprised his grant lay in the middle of hostile Indian territory.”

In a similar account of Old Mansion, the Town of Bowling Green’s website asserts that Hoomes built the stately manor house “in 1667 (sic) and named it ‘Bowling Green’ after his family’s ancestral seat in England… It kept the name ‘Bowling Green’ until 1803, when Hoomes donated land to build the present courthouse. As the community around the new court area grew, it adopted the estate’s name. Hence, the Hoomes estate began to be referred to as ‘Old Mansion.’”

In addition to his farm, Hoomes operated a tavern across the road from the land, a half-mile north, that he donated for a courthouse and called it "New Hope Tavern."

After buying the estate that gave Bowling Green its name, Nicklin hired a dendrochronologist, or tree-ring expert, who could date the timbers used in construction of a building. The expert bored into beams with a hole saw and determined the house was built in 1741, not 1669 or 1667 as previously believed.

“For me, it was just wanting to be accurate,” Nicklin said in the June telephone interview, commenting on the finding of the tree-ring expert.

Charlottesville Realtor Frank Hardy has the Bowling Green estate listed on his website: “Circa 1741, historic Bowling Green Farm is one of the oldest, most original homes in Virginia. Nestled among 126 acres, this pre-Georgian brick colonial boasts 5 bedrooms, 4 baths, 9 fireplaces and 2 forty-foot porches.”

But the precise number of ghosts is not specified.

According to Virginia Ghosts, the first hauntings were related to the original Hoomes' family. The book also includes an excellent description of the lovely, ancient house.

"Massively built, a high pitched roof, very tall chimneys and the dormer windows still glazed with eighteen tiny panes of glass."

It also states that the original owner Colonel John Waller Hoomes himself called the home "Old Mansion," differentiating it from the nearby growing town of Bowling Green.

It is Colonel Hoomes' daughter, Sophia, who died young and is said to be a visiting spirit to the house.

"There are those in the neighborhood who say that throughout the years her ghost has often been seen journeying to the 'Old Mansion' in her coach," writes Marguerite Dupont Lee in her book Virginia Ghosts, dated 1966.

Colonel Hoomes and guests reportedly heard at night the approach of horses entering the drive, then leaving. Looking out onto the lawn, they saw a group of children dressed in luminous clothes playing on the grass. The next day, one of Colonel Hoomes' eldest son became suddenly ill, and died.

The next year the horses' hooves were again heard, the phantom children seen again, and the following day the second oldest son died. Over the years, in like manner, two more sons died. "This strange occurrence was repeated until all the sons of John Waller Hoomes slept in the family burying ground beyond the box-hedge on the left side of the house," wrote Marguerite Dupont Lee.

After Colonel Hoomes died, his ghost was said to appear to family members who were about to die.

After a while of this, there were no more Hoomes left in "Old Mansion" – living ones, that is.

The home was later owned by a "Mr. Woodward" who became amorous of his housekeeper and decided to do his ailing wife in. This he accomplished on Halloween Night by pretending to be a ghost and frightening her to death.

The good people of Bowling Green caught on to his scheme, and "Mr. Woodward" and his attractive housekeeper fled the county. "Groans" and the ringing of servants' bells throughout the house by an unseen hand drove the next owners out, and the ones after that, then for eight years the house went unoccupied due to its reputation for being haunted.

According to the realtor’s website, the manor house and surrounding grounds have undergone a three-year restoration.

Whether or not restoration removes ghosts is not known.

Telephone calls and e-mails to Nicklin requesting an interview to talk about the restoration were not returned.